Reaching Understanding through Non-Verbal Communication in Timothy Findley’s “War” and “About Effie”
The two stories “War” and “About Effie” from Timothy Findley’s Dinner Along the Amazon are both told by the same child narrator, Neil. In each of the stories Neil attempts to make sense of a mystery of the adult world. In “War” Neil tries to understand the adult world of war, and explain why it seems that his father has betrayed him, and in “About Effie” Neil tries to understand the mystery of Effie’s strange need to wait for a man in a thunderstorm. Neil reaches an understanding of each of these mysteries in a similar way: through observation of non-verbal clues from adults. However, Neil’s own attempts to communicate non-verbally through his behaviour are unsuccessful. Taken as a whole, these two stories show how very important non-verbal communication is in child-adult relationships.
In “About Effie” Neil’s most significant impression of Effie is created when she looks at him. Neil tells how when he first meets the new maid, she looks at him with such meaning that it scares him: “. . .the way you’ll know her is this: she’ll look at you as if she thought you were someone she was waiting for, and it will probably scare you. It did me” (82). Neil describes the first time he meets Effie in terms of the way they look at each other, saying “The first time I saw her, she saw me first” (82). Neil is shocked by this new maid, not only because she gives him such a profound look, but also because she bursts into tears upon seeing him.
Neil tries to make sense of why Effie would become so emotional upon seeing him, and tries to discover more about this mysterious person for whom she is waiting. But her case does not fit neatly into Neil’s preconceived ideas about maids and why they would “break up” in such a way. Neil explains, “I’d seen maids break up like that before, when they didn’t like Toronto and wanted to go home. They just sat around just waiting all the time for some guy on a horse. I soon found out that I was wrong, though” (83). For Neil the mystery of Effie is deepened each time he learns more about the man for whom she is waiting. He does not have a name but is simply called ‘him’ as Neil explains, “The man she was waiting for certainly didn’t sound like any man I’d ever heard of. She just called him ‘him’ and sometimes it was even ‘they’, as if there were a thousand of them or something” (83). Neil learns that this mysterious man Effie is waiting for comes during a thunderstorm, on a big black cloud, when there is music. Neil finds that this fantasy is very unusual: “All those other men always come on horses – white horses. Not Effie’s. A big black cloud. I felt pretty strange when she came out with that one” (86).
Even though Neil cannot fully understand Effie at the beginning of the story, he is reassured by the non-verbal communication that goes on between them. Neil looks...